Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Riding as a Tonic

by Laura Crum

My last post dealt with the downside of riding—today I want to dwell on the upside. Because riding is one of the things that can turn a bad day into a good day; it can lift my mood more surely than a margarita (well, sometimes).

Here’s my story. I hadn’t had a chance to ride for a week. My husband had knee surgery ten days ago and since then I have been his devoted nurse as well as taking care of all the household chores (and he always did his fair share) and being my child’s chauffer for his many activities. Needless to say, I haven’t had a lot of extra time. And when I did find an hour to spare, the idea of saddling up and riding seemed overwhelming. I simply didn’t have the energy. Those few spare moments I preferred to sit on the porch and have a cup of tea, or just lie down and close my eyes. By the end of the week, between my husband’s pain and lack of sleep and just my general busyness, I was feeling pretty stressed. In fact, lets face it, also pretty depressed.

But yesterday I made the effort to go ride with my friends at the team roping practice. In some ways, this is like a lesson—it happens at a specific time and place. You’re either at the arena at 10:00AM on Tues and Thurs to participate or you miss it. Just like having a commitment to a lesson, having said I’d go and help is a motivator to get there. And having hauled the horses ten miles down the road, I’m not going to back out and say “I just don’t feel like it”, which is so easy to do at home. So I saddled Sunny and Henry, neither of whom had been ridden in a week, and my son and I helped the ropers gather the cattle.

Helping at the roping arena has a nice purposeful quality to it. The horses like it, as horses tend to like any purposeful activity that they can comprehend. We gather the cattle and push them down the crowding alley and into the chutes. We work the chutes from horseback (they are designed for this), which involves quite a bit of opening and closing gates from on one’s horse. We haze, which is running alongside the cattle to make them run straight for the ropers. And when, for one reason or another, a steer is not wanted by the ropers, my son gets to chase that steer down the arena (which he loves).

In between, we lope a few circles and chat with our friends, who are all horseback, too—expept the ones who are recovering from injuries—seems like there’s always at least one of these. There’s usually at least one or two folks training a young horse, or somebody has a new horse that they’re trying. There’s always lots of fun horsey stuff to talk about. We are a mixed group—four tough old cowboys in their seventies (one in his eighties), myself and two of my girlfriends (50ish women), two men in their 50’s, one guy in his 20’s, two kids about ten (one of which is my son). The guy in his 20’s moonlights as a horse trader and trainer and one of my friends and myself no longer rope—we just hang out and ride and help do the chores. Neither of the kids ropes (yet). We all have fun just being together. We know each other’s horses and we’ve all known each other for many years. It’s a great pleasure for me to see my son enjoying this “comradeship of the horse”, as we lope around together in the sunshine on our shiny mounts and chase cattle and swap stories.

So yesterday was just an ordinary day at the roping arena. We rode for a couple of hours. Both our horses were well behaved—Sunny felt good, which makes him fun to ride, he lopes right out. And suddenly, somewhere in the middle of this, looking down at the bright gold curve of Sunny’s neck with his cream white mane springing off the crest, I realized I wasn’t depressed any more. In fact, I felt just fine.

Nothing special had happened. I had just been riding for an hour on my good little horse (and boy do I love my solid little middle aged gelding who acts just fine after lots of time off) and sudenly all was right with my world.

So, I’m here to ask you guys—does this happen for lots of you, too? An ordinary ride turns a bad day into a good day? Nothing much has to happen—its just being on the back of a well behaved horse. It sure works for me. And for my kid. I’d welcome hearing your stories.

And Shanster, I know you had a great trail ride—if you read this, can you tell everybody? I was so tickled to hear how well it turned out. I’m like you—I love my little yellow mule(!) Not that your horse is a mule—that’s just my nickname for Sunny.


Susan said...

It's amazing how that can happen. I haven't been riding in a while and have all the excuses, the weather and being busy, etc. One of these days I have to saddle up my sweet mare to get things right myself.

Laura Crum said...

Susan--I am just like you. I have all these excuses (and all very legitimate--I know how it goes), but when I do ride, mostly it helps me so much I wonder why I put it off.

Mrs. Mom said...

Life always smooths out and looks better from the back of my nag ;) I might need to slip out for a dawn ride tomorrow. Sure could use some perspective alteration about now!

Laura Crum said...

Mrs Mom--You have been one of my biggest inspirations. When you tell of how a ride on Sonny makes your day, I listen.

Beth said...

Oh man does a bad ride make an awful day seem splendid. I look forward to my lesson day all week. The rest of the days just suck.

I really hope I find a nice riding horse so I can ride more than once a week.

Hanging out with horse people is just icing on the cake. It is fun to just chill and talk horse.

Shanster said...

I can SO relate to this post... things get in the way and stuff comes up and you don't ride. You begin to feel down and you can't even really put your finger on it. Then you have a ride. And all of a sudden all is right with the world. Horses are magic!!

My trail ride with Sera that I was so nervous about turned out FABULOUS... I had the bestest time and my red-headed mule (funny cuz we call her that as a funny term of endearment too!) was a star. It was her first trail ride and she was a champ.

AND I had a nice ride on my gelding that I have fear about and hopefully getting over it(rolling of eyes at myself) this weekend.

If you are interested in the details, it's here:

Cheers! Shanster

Funder said...

I hope your husband's feeling better soon! Poor guy.

Riding always makes me feel better. Even if all I do is "argue" with Dixie, or I can't really get in the groove with her, I still feel way more awesome when I get off than when I got on.

And getting on the horse is definitely the hardest part. Some days it just seems like such a chore. You mean I have to put the blanket on, then the saddle, then do up the girth? And what's this bridle nonsense? Ffffff, so much ~effort.~ It's definitely worth it, though.

Joy said...

Oh how I love to chase the cows down the arena!!! love it. And push 'em to the shutes too. It's been way too long.

I have always felt that my riding time is my "church" time.

I was raised by a baptist preacher (and his wife oh dear me can we say GUILT) and went to church from the time I was born before I could even remember. I eventually lost my religion. But I found it again on an OTTB mare bitch from hell. She saved me and I found God again.

Now when I ride, it's my worship.

No matter how bad the day, no matter how tired I am or "over it" I am, I know that if I get on willie's back, it will all turn around and I'll be alright.

Honestly, it is always a religious experience for me. Even with bolting or spooking. I feel the presence of the source of love and for that I am unspeakably grateful for the horse.

Unknown said...

It works wonders - even for my daughter. She's going through pre teen angst and time at the barn lifted it completely.

Laura Crum said...

Breathe--Your comment brings that whole period of my life back to me. As a teenager, whenever things weren't going well for me (which was often) I would spend time at the family ranch, riding my uncle's horses. It made everything OK. I can remember reassuring myself, "nothing matters but the horses. As long as I have them, its fine." Its such a gift for a teenage girl---or it was for me.

Joy--I was raised by a strict Catholic mother and went to Catholic school--the whole route. I can say, "guilt" (!) So, I hear you. I never thought of horses being my religion, but maybe its true. They were the path that connected me to the natural world, which is where I found what truths I know. Thanks for the insightful comment.

Funder--That is so true about actually getting on the horse being the hardest part. I grinned when I read your comment. You mean I have to brush this dirty critter? Really? And then lift that saddle? Forget it. Let alone I have to actually walk down to the corrals and catch the beast... The excuses are endless. And then, when you finally swing your leg over, it all seems easy.

Shanster--I really enjoyed reading about your trail ride--its so great when our horses surpass themselves. And yeah, its funny we both call them little mules. I sometimes call Sunny my little yellow plug, too. Its cause he's so laid back, and though a good, reliable trail horse, he's a bit cross grained and not much of an athlete.

Beth--Well, I find its totally worth it to own gentle, bombproof geldings. They are all horses that I could put a beginner on. A friend calls them my "dude string". I don't care. I used to ride some pretty fancy horses when I was younger--now what I am interested in is safe and reliable, particlarly on the trail and at the roping arena--cause that's where I ride. I love my "dude horses".

lopinon4 said...

Great timing for this post, Laura. Just last night, I was feeling especially grateful for all the training and hard work I put into my gelding.
We were riding in the indoor arena and a storm hit; the rain pummeling the roof suddenly and with the force of a million hammers, but my guy kept up his canter, steady as could be. 2 other horses blew up in fear, putting their riders in danger. Just getting those horses out of the arena and back to the barn was a task for them. It was too loud to hear what they were saying, and too loud for me to reassure CJ with my voice. I didn't make a huge deal of it at the moment, anyway. Just a scratch at the withers and we kept on with our workout. Over the thunder booms and flashes of lightening, we polished some rusty lead changes, sharpened our halts, and did some lateral work. With the rain still pouring, water swirling into the arena entry way, and the wind whipping, we made our dash back to the barn, splashing water all over each other with our footsteps through the deep puddles, through the blinding sheets of rain. I remember hoping CJ wouldn't step on me in his avoidance of the deeper puddles (he truly hates getting his feet wet). But,I swear he was giggling with me when we got to the barn. Horses do giggle, don't they? :)

Laura Crum said...

lopinon4--CJ sounds like my kind of guy. I know those midwest thunderstorms--they're really something. I admire any horse (or human) who is unfazed.

I finally got out on a real trail ride today. There were still some muddy (slippery) spots and a couple of downed trees to deal with (due to all of our spring storms) but it was great to get out in the woods for an hour or so. My kid and I had a blast. And I was so grateful for our two steady horses, who slithered through mud and pushed through downed tree branches without turning a hair.

We are so lucky to have these reliable mounts. Here's to all of them, with much gratitude.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Better late than never :)

I love my "unreliable" mount...she's becoming quite the trail horse. I've been putting hours and hours on that I'm past the trailer loading drama!

She's also teaching me a lot. Took a lesson, and the first thing I was told is that "you are a good rider, but don't tense up so much!" Habit from riding a green broke spooky horse!

Anyway, I am 10 miles from an extensive trail system, and have been going almost daily (since I can't ride in my pastures...too much rain in the midwest lately!). I've discovered that if I relax my pelvis, Starlette doesn't spook so much.

I would love to ride a reliable mount, but I am learning so much from my mare, that I would probably not be where I am today.

You always get the horse you need...


Laura Crum said...

Jackie--That is wonderful. Starlette has come such a long way since you first started writing about her. And I think you're right about getting the horse you need. Sunny has been that for me, and perhaps I have been the person he needed--see my next post.

Unlike you, I have been forced to ride mostly in arenas this spring since the trails are steep and slippery when muddy, and we have had a very rainy spring, too. We just started getting back out on the trails the last couple of weeks. I have really missed it.